On the compulsive reading of news

“Remind me … to write a popular article on the compulsive reading of news. The theme will be that most neuroses and some psychoses can be traced to the unnecessary and unhealthy habit of daily wallowing in the troubles and sins of five billion strangers.”

Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

Quotation and endorsement

I like sharing quotes on Twitter. Occasionally a quote will provoke an angry reaction, not to the content of the quote but to the source. Sometimes people will even acknowledge that they agree with the quote, but are dismayed that I would quote such a despicable person.

This morning I was reading Norman Geisler’s book on Thomas Aquinas and these lines reminded me of the brouhaha over quotes and sources.

No, I do not agree with everything he [Aquinas] ever wrote. On the other hand, neither do I agree with everything I ever wrote.

I’d say along with Geisler that if I could only quote people I completely agreed with, I could not even quote myself.

Geisler goes on to say

But seven hundred years from now no one will even recognize my name, while Aquinas’ works will still be used with great profit.

I feel the same way about many of the people I quote. I remember catching flak for quoting Martin Luther. I’ve already forgotten the critic’s name, and he’s probably forgotten mine, but people will still be reading Luther in another five hundred years.

When rejected thoughts coming back

I was struck by this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, even though I’m not sure I understand what he meant.

In every work of genius, we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.

Maybe Emerson was referring to that why-didn’t-I-think-of-that feeling when you see that someone else connected one or two more dots than you did. You thought about a challenge, and maybe you were close to resolving it, but you lacked a key insight to pull it all together. You decided your approach wouldn’t work, but someone did make it work.

If that’s what Emerson had in mind, it’s puzzling that he speaks of “every work of genius.” It would be incredibly arrogant to think that you almost came up with every great idea you see. Maybe he means that we recognize genius best when it relates to something we’ve struggled with.

What do you think Emerson meant? When have your rejected ideas come back to you?